Photo: Marcus Cooper
Tinashe's '333' Album Elevates Her To A New Level Of Freedom
Tinashe seems a lot freer nowadays. While we can only hear each other's voices while connecting on Zoom, her joyous tone is contagious. It's reflective of the metaphorical exhale she's had since 2019 after parting ways with her label following a seven-year-long rollercoaster. The singer/songwriter has been around for nearly a decade, self-releasing her first mixtape, In Case We Die, in 2012 and making her major-label debut with 2014's Aquarius.
She soon dove headfirst as a free agent, her creativity overflowing within 2019's Songs For You, independently released via her Tinashe Music label. Now, Tinashe continues the self-fulfillment journey with 333. Out on August 6, it highlights a newfound clarity about her purpose both as an artist and a person.
333 is a seamless transition from Songs For You, complete with motivational anthems ("If only I could manifest it / My momma told me, 'Life is yours for the takin'" she affirms on lead single "Pasadena"), futuristic tunes that call back to her mixtape days ("I Can See The Future") and themes of owning one's womanhood ("Bouncin'" and "X" with Jeremih).
"I'm glad that it's noticeable because I certainly feel a big difference," Tinashe tells GRAMMY.com about her transition to artistic independence. "But at the same time, there was a lot of uncertainty of not really knowing how people would react to my [new] music, not knowing where I was getting the budget for things I wanted to create, and just how everything was going to work."
"Over the course of the last two years, there's been a lot of growth for me," she continues. "I really feel at peace with where I'm at in my career and excited about the fact that I'm able to make my own creative decisions. It's empowering. I'm feeling a lot more inspired and joyful in alignment with what I'm meant to be doing."
Below, Tinashe discusses the enlightening journey that led to 333 and why it's time to stop branding her as "underrated."
I was reading that 333 in angel numbers is a sign of divine protectors and that your path ahead is clear for you to move forward into life's next chapter. I'm assuming that was the inspiration for the album title?
Yeah, absolutely. It's been a journey for me to always remember that I am on the right path and that I'm always moving towards my ultimate goal. [I have to be] focused on that as opposed to getting lost in the sauce, whether that be in [streaming] numbers or competing for chart positions. These are things we can get caught up with when we're public music artists and wanting to be successful. I think those things can derail you from your true purpose.
So for me, it's just knowing that I am always protected, having that hopefulness, moving forward with a sense of safety, and not necessarily always being in reaction mode. I do have this divine protection at all times and I'm comforted in that. It's also reflective in my name as well, which I always think is cool. My name means "God is with us" in Shona, [the language spoken] where my dad is from Zimbabwe. It just mirrors that in the sense too: we always have our angels around us to look at our intuition and lead us in the right direction.
I love that. Virtual reality is also a big theme for this record. My interpretation is this controlled "machine" that society enforces on you that contrasts with your natural instincts of going with the flow.
I think that's a great interpretation. I've been really interested in how technology and spirituality meet. To get even deeper, questioning the nature of reality and simulated simulation theory and thinking about potentially being in a simulation. I feel like 2020 was so wild that a lot of times I [thought], "This can't be really happening." So it's playing with that idea, but then also realizing where it meets my spirituality, a sense of boundlessness and freedom. You can look at it in an interesting way, that potentially this is all just like a game.
Instead of finding that as a scary concept, looking at it as more empowered: "Maybe I'm able to actually control the narrative of my life, make my own decisions and take the power back." So it's moving through the [music] industry in a way that feels fearless. I can actually renavigate this landscape as opposed to just being a pawn in it.
Do you plan to bring that idea on your tour this fall?
Girl, yes. I plan to just continue to build out all of my interests from tech gaming and VR, and bring that into the performance space, and continue to push the boundaries in that aspect. Also with the world shutting down, being able to bring concert experiences to more fans than the people that can just come to the major markets. Connecting my worldwide fanbase ties into what I'm attempting to do with this project for sure.
Where does your interest in tech stem from?
I'm not exactly sure if there's one thing. It's a theme that I've been exploring since my Reverie mixtape in 2012, which at that time I was more interested in the concept of reality possibly being a dream and how we move through life. As the years have gone on, I've gotten more involved in gaming and tech has gotten more advanced, so it's interesting to me to then apply those same concepts and questions to this new landscape. There's a dichotomy between the natural world and re-sustainability with saving the planet. But then at the same time, we're trying to get to Mars, building AI and developing all these simulated worlds that are just getting better and better. I obviously also love gaming.
You actually nailed this theme on the title track, which I think is your most experimental moment. It has this robotic "Black Mirror" feel to it. I can tell you've been pushing yourself.
I appreciate that. I'm always intrigued by things that push the envelope because it's more interesting to me. I do think historically maybe that has been confusing for my audience at times, especially those who don't know me very well. From the outside looking in, people have said that maybe I'm unfocused or I lack direction, when in reality what feels the most natural to me is exploring all these different avenues.
I'm able to not box myself into one lane, genre, or style, and I can continue to experiment sonically. With this album, I personally think I did a really good job of trying to walk that line between music that is catchy, memorable, and that you can bop to of course, but then also pushing myself in a new direction as always.
This album is so bright and vibrant. My favorite projects from you are Black Water and Nightride, which are both so moody and dark. You hear this trajectory of you emerging from those murky waters and the light finally hits you. That light is now 333.
I feel that way in my spirit and who I am as a person as well. When I was creating those albums, that was very true of myself at the time. When I created Nightride, I was really working on Joyride and there was some tension with my record label.
Yeah, I remember it being this very public tug-o-war.
It was a whole thing. [Laughs.] The way I'm able to express my feelings or frustration, usually comes out through the art. Nightride felt more on the darker end of the spectrum, but still in alignment with the sonic universe that I'm creating now.
It's really telling how much I have matured and grown. So I'm excited to see where I go from here. I don't even know what the next project will sound like. I obviously have not started yet, but I think it's always going to be a journey through where I'm at emotionally and mentally as a human being.
There's also this heightened sexuality on this album too, which carries over from Songs For You. I don't know if you believe in the divine feminine, but it gives me that energy.
Yes, yes, thank you! Again, that's part of that evolution. Songs For You explored those themes, but I was definitely coming from a place of hurt. So a lot of the songs, even the sexier ones, have a tone of resentment or there's an edge to it. This one is more of me coming into my power and confidence. Like you said, that divine feminine energy is something that I've really tapped into as well.
I'm owning my sexuality and confidence as a woman and being able to play into that power in a way that is empowering and beautiful and exciting as opposed to just feeling more like it's like a crutch. Every woman that I've loved musically has really embraced that. Whether that'd be Janet [Jackson], Britney [Spears], Christina Aguilera, or Beyoncé, the list goes on and on. These are people who have used their sexuality in a way that feels really powerful and inspiring. I've always loved that as a fan. So I'm trying to incorporate that in my art as well.
We're both huge Britney Spears fans, and of course you collaborated with her on "Slumber Party" in 2016.
Britney has always walked this beautiful, fine line between power and softness both in her personality and in her sensuality. I've loved to see that as the years have gone on. I think one of the things that we all love the most about Britney is that she seems so sweet and genuine. That's why everyone really wants her to win and wants her to be happy. I want her to win and to see her come into her power, be able to speak her truth, be able to make those changes, and stand up for herself. I think that's amazing. So we absolutely love to see it.
You have power as well, now having full creative independence. How does that feel to finally gain that?
I feel like it's changed the game for me in terms of how I view myself as an artist. It really is more psychological than anything else, but just knowing that I've created this for myself and I don't need the big machine in order to validate who I am as an artist. I can still put out quality material and still focus on my purpose. That's really given me a lot of confidence and a new sense of energy as a performer, as an artist, as a creative. I'm very, very happy with all the changes I've made and I'm really proud of myself too.
As you should be. People are always tweeting: "Tinashe is so underrated!" I don't know if you've seen them, but there's so many videos of other artists who borrow from the Tinashe blueprint. Maybe it's because you're no longer with a major label, but at this point, you can't be considered as such.
Well, thank you and I agree! I do think that when people say that, they mean it as a compliment. I appreciate where they're coming from, in the sense that we all want these landmarks of success and to achieve these accolades. It's been really crucial in my own understanding of myself to not view myself as underrated, but as someone who absolutely has made an impact and is exactly where I'm meant to be and be comfortable in that.
It's important to not get mixed up in the numbers, streams, "likes" and the things that can potentially confuse that [ideal]. I'm owning what I've done and where I've come from. I'm looking at myself more as a legend-in-the-making, as opposed to someone who's underrated. I still got a long way to go. This isn't the end, the future is bright! I'm very excited to see what happens.
"It's been really crucial in my own understanding of myself to not view myself as underrated, but as someone who absolutely has made an impact and is exactly where I'm meant to be and be comfortable in that."
You're a triple threat and with both of us growing up in the "TRL" era, I think having the total package is what's been lacking in music lately. But you and a few other artists have been reigniting that movement.
I try to give the world what I loved the most about artists that I loved growing up — especially Janet Jackson. She really embodied every aspect of what it means to be a true entertainer, from the interviews to the visuals, to the stage performance, to the songs themselves. It never felt, at any point, that any part of her was lacking. There was an effort in every single element. I want to be able to bring that attention to detail and love of my art to what I do as well. So thank you. I've been very actively attempting to be accountable for every aspect of my career. So I'm glad that people can tell that I've been putting that effort in.
Your music still has the vibe that you're recording in your bedroom. Is maintaining that intimacy important to you?
A thousand percent. If ever there was a point in my career where I felt like I was maybe losing myself was when I didn't maintain my precious creative process. My best work has always been music that I've created in my own space or music that felt really instinctual.
When I was signed to a major [label], it was a blessing to be able to work with all of the biggest producers in the game. But at the same time, it affected my mental health and also how I viewed myself as an artist. There were times when I thought what I created wasn't as good as maybe what other people could create. Remembering that my best work always comes from my gut has really helped me refocus. And that output is tangible. I think people can tell the difference when you have a real passion behind everything you put out.